The advent of the Internet has connected our world in a way that it has never seen (Huffington Post, 2014). Although access to the Internet is still limited in many emerging economy countries, studies have shown that once people in these areas gain access they quickly integrate it into their lives, using it on an almost daily basis (Pew Research, 2014). As more people become connected, the Internet can be a vital tool to enrich their lives no matter where they are located. It has also become increasingly important for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as more SMEs realize the importance of maintaining a presence online to interact with their current or future customers (International Small Business Journal (ISB), 2008). Indeed, recent studies have shown that 56 percent of people do not trust a business or organization without a website (Verisign, 2013).
As the Internet has grown an entire industry has emerged for creating software applications for use in the Internet and Intranets (private networks). With the importance of maintaining an interactive, useful, and relevant presence on the Internet, entities such as SMEs need to develop Internet software applications and services that can meet their customers’ needs. Many SMEs, however, might not have the human resources to do this in-house, so they rely on the services of external specialists such as programmers and developers. HSCO LLP (HSCO), a company started by a group of individuals from the Hashemite Kingfom of Jordan (Jordan) and based in the United Kingdom (UK), is one such company. Through their technical skill and use of important intellectual property (IP) tools such as copyright, HSCO is an SME for SMEs, securing clients, developing meaningful software applications for internal and external use, designing custom software and websites, and working to solidify their position in a competitive market.
Launched in 2011, HSCO is made up of individuals with backgrounds in law, finance, project management, and computer programming and design (according to the company). The SME primarily focuses on developing secure, scalable, and flexible solutions for growing businesses and SMEs throughout the world. HSCO’s services are geared at those SMEs that do not have in-house programmers or developers and creates custom-made applications to fit the need of each client. Since it was first launched, HSCO has developed accounting programs, electronic reservation booking systems, real estate software, and other web-based applications. During the development process, the SME may hire the services of external consultants on a project basis.
Since the SME works with its clients to meet their needs, research and development (R&D) is undertaken for each individual project. Shortly after HSCO started operations it found success in developing an Electronic Medical Chart (EMC) for a rehabilitation consultant group (the Group) in Michigan, USA. Working remotely, the company researched the Group’s needs and developed a secure application that organizes daily case work, linking it to an accounting system that HSCO also developed, seamlessly working in one web-based package. Eliminating the Group’s reliance on paper, this simple, easy to use system allows employees to increase productivity, ensure privacy and data protection, and manage appointments, files and invoice information from wherever there is an Internet connection. It also allows the Group to quickly draft financial reports and reduce its operational cost, by combining it’s medical chart and accounting systems, monitor staff productivity, and more easily manage its day-to-day operations.
The successful experience with the Group helped HSCO build a software portfolio, and as a result the company has successfully developed similar EMCs for other use cases and clients. Earmarking more R&D into its EMC software, as of 2014 the SME was working to create an attractive subscription-based product that could be competitive in the medical industry.
In the software industry, one of the most important means of IP protection is copyright (Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, 2002). Companies can rise and fall on the quality of their software, and copyright is the primary means to inhibit infringement. Like other companies in the industry, copyright is an essential legal mechanism that protects the software HSCO creates. In the case of the EMC developed for the Group, an agreement was reached in which the Group owns a non-exclusive right to the software so they can access the source code to make any potential future changes. While the Group has this right, the source code is owned by HSCO and under the agreement the SME has the right to market the software anywhere in the world, with the caveat that HSCO must first market it outside of the USA. This arrangement has proven to be a success for the company and HSCO follows similar strategies with other clients.
Further to its clients, HSCO must also enter into agreements with its employees and consultants to determine which entity owns the copyright. In this regard, HSCO retains all IP rights for any software developed by its staff or consultants while working on HSCO projects. The SME can thus assure that it owns the products that are integral to its success.
With roots in Jordan, HSCO also deems it important to protect its software in the country, which has a registration system through the National Library of the Jordanian Ministry of Culture. Although copyright is automatic in Jordan upon creation of the work, registration with the National Library puts the copyright holder in a better position should litigation arise over alleged infringement. Registration is free and can also be done Online, which makes it an easy and cost-effective solution for the company to register its copyrighted works in Jordan.
Explaining the importance of copyright to WIPO in an email interview, Mr. Hetham Hani Abu Karky, the SME’s founder and CEO, said, “HSCO must ensure that our software products are protected. To do so, we register them in the National Library [in Jordan] and make it a point to include our IP rights in all of our client agreements.”
A company’s brand image is an important part of its identity, and HSCO recognizes that protecting the company’s logo and slogan - Our solutions are available - is a valuable effort. To that end, as of the end of 2014 the SME was considering filing trademark applications in Jordan and the United Kingdom (UK) for its name and logo. After the UK applications, HSCO can easily and cost-effectively seek protection in other countries through the Madrid system, an international trademark system managed by the International Bureau at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Being a company that works primarily through the Internet and with Web-related technologies, maintaining a presence online is essential for HSCO. To that end, the SME owns the hscoweb.com domain name, through which it offers information about the company, its software, and services. In addition, the company offers live examples of its software so potential customers can see it in action before they make a purchasing decision.
One feature of HSCO’s work, as with others in the industry, is to develop web-based software on demand. That is, they work to commercialize products that meet the specific needs of an individual client. Final software products are given to clients for them to implement into their website, Intranet, or other information technology (IT) infrastructure as they deem appropriate. Therefore, the SME develops software applications for very specific purposes and needs. The end software represents the product that HSCO sells, but it also includes access to all source code so their client can continue to develop or make necessary changes to it as they arise (although the source code itself is not sold). With the success of the company’s EMC product, as of 2014 it planned to continue to commercialize similar software products for companies in the medical industry.
Another feature of HSCO’s commercialization efforts is the development of software products that are not sold to be installed on a client’s IT infrastructure, but are sold on a subscription basis. Popular social networks, for example, use this means of commercialization, in that a user does not own or install the software, but logs in and uses it directly on the Internet, with information stored on the social network’s secure servers. Many popular software applications by companies such as Microsoft and Adobe have also turned to the subscription means of commercialization for their products, and this model has become increasingly popular in the software industry (Venture Beat, 2014). In 2014, HSCO was working on a web-based EMC application that will allow clients to have all of the functionality (and new features) of the EMC that was developed for the Michigan-based company, but without the need to install any applications. After a free trial period, users will have the opportunity to purchase continued use of the software for a monthly fee, while all source code written to create the application will be kept confidential.
Building on the success of on-demand software development and commercialization, HSCO plans to continue to develop and commercialize subscription-based software to reach more customers and markets in a competitive industry. In addition, the SME provides consultation services to other SMEs on office organization and business development by providing or referring solutions to issues such as Web development and design, E-commerce, and payroll products.
After only a few years in business, by 2014 HSCO was able to develop a successful product portfolio and gain a foothold in the domestic and international software development industries. According to the company, its EMC software has been well received and the SME has been able to break into North America, a leading IT market, and build on this success with the development and future commercialization of a subscription based product. These products combined with a policy of protecting their copyrighted software could further propel the company to increased financial success.
Becoming an entrepreneur involves risk, and the individuals behind HSCO have thus far been able to meet that risk successfully. Developing a proven product portfolio in a few short years backed by copyright, the SME plans to continue to grow and develop positive solutions for SMEs and other customers throughout the world that would otherwise not have the means to create or access such software.
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Date of publication: January 20, 2015